Colin Blackburn, Baron Blackburn

Colin Blackburn, Baron Blackburn
Lord Blackburn.

Colin Blackburn, Baron Blackburn (1813 – 8 January 1896) was a Scottish judge.

Colin Blackburn was born in Selkirkshire, and educated at Edinburgh Academy, Eton and at Trinity College, Cambridge, taking high mathematical honours in 1835.[1] His younger brother was the mathematician Hugh Blackburn.

He was called to the bar in 1838, and went the northern circuit. His progress was at first slow, and he employed himself in reporting and editing, with T.F. Ellis, eight volumes of the highly-esteemed Ellis and Blackburn reports. His deficiency in all the more brilliant qualities of the advocate almost confined his practice to commercial cases, in which he obtained considerable employment in his circuit; but he continued to belong to the outside bar, and was so little known to the legal world that his promotion to a puisne judgeship in the court of queen's bench in 1859 was at first ascribed to Lord Campbell's partiality for his countrymen, but Lord Lyndhurst, Lord Wensleydale and Lord Cranworth came forward to defend the appointment. Blackburn himself is said to have thought that a county court judgeship was about to be offered him, which he had resolved to decline.

He soon proved himself one of the soundest lawyers on the bench, and when he was promoted to the Court of Appeal in 1876 was considered the highest authority on common law. In 1876 he was made a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and a life peer as Baron Blackburn, of Killearn in the County of Stirlingshire. Both in this capacity and as judge of the queen's bench he delivered many judgments of the highest importance, and no decisions have been received with greater respect[citation needed]. In 1886 he was appointed a member of the commission charged to prepare a digest of the criminal law, but retired on account of indisposition in the following year. He died at his country residence, Doonholm in Ayrshire, on the 8th of January 1896.

Though greatly respected he does not seem to have been popular; according to a well-known story he informed a colleague that he intended to retire in vacation to avoid the trouble of a retirement dinner- the colleague cheerfully replied that this was quite unnecessary since no-one would have turned up to the dinner anyway.

He was the author of a valuable work on the Law of Sales. See The Times, 10 January 1896; E Manson, Builders of our Law (1904).


"a lord of appeal". Caricature by Spy published in Vanity Fair in 1881.

The following is a list of some of the cases in which Lord Blackburn gave leading judgments.

  • Tweddle v Atkinson (1861) 1 B&S 393, 121 ER 762, privity and consideration
  • Taylor v Caldwell (1863) 3 B & S 826, frustration
  • R v Nelson and Brand (1867)
  • Rylands v Fletcher [1868] UKHL 1, seminal strict liability case
  • Smith v Hughes (1871) LR 6 QB 597, objective interpretation of conduct in contracts and mistakes
  • Harris v Nickerson (1873) LR 8 QB 286, offer and acceptance at auctions
  • R v Negus (1873) LR 2 CP 34, definition of control of worker
  • Jackson v Union Marine Insurance (1874) 10 Common Pleas 125, contractual termination
  • Ashbury Railway Carriage and Iron Co Ltd v Riche (1875) LR 7 HL 653, company objects clauses
  • Poussard v Spiers and Pond (1876) 1 QBD 410, contractual termination and wrongful dismissal
  • Brogden v Metropolitan Railway Company (1876–77) LR 2 App Cas 666
  • Hughes v Metropolitan Railway Co (1877) 2 AC 439, promissory estoppel
  • Orr-Ewing v Colquhoun (1877)
  • Erlanger v New Sombrero Phosphate Co (1878) 3 App Cas 1218
  • Pharmaceutical Society v London and Provincial Supply Association (1880)
  • Speight v Gaunt (1883-84) LR 9 App Cas 1
  • Foakes v Beer (1884) 9 App Cas 605, part payment of debt as consideration


  1. ^ Blackburn, Colin in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.

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